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Spike Lee: No. Larry Carter: Yes. Weapons of Mass Distortion

by John on 03/30/2012

This is a post about, what I have labeled, Weapons of Mass Distortion.  They are false blast emails sent to you by so-called friends.  Most of these missives are either blatantly or deviously incorrect – with a political goal.

The innovative and controversial filmmaker Spike Lee has unwittingly produced a new generation of WMD’s.

Instead of email, Spike used Twitter.  He re-tweeted the address of the alleged killer of Trayvon Martin to his 250,000 followers.  The only problem: it was the wrong address.  The Twitter world saw the address of a retired couple in their 70s with the last name Zimmerman.  However, they are no relation to George Zimmerman, the alleged suspect.

The couple was deluged with hate mail and protesters.  Fortunately, Spike has apologized and, according to reports, settled with the couple financially.

But here are the lessons we’ve been talking about here – about being the most important journalist in your life.

First, news organizations might give out someone’s address.  Remember the TV live shots outside the home of disgraced Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.  You can bet someone verified that before anyone went live.

But for you, as a personal journalist, here’s the rule: DON’T POST ANYONE’S ADDRESS.  Think of someone’s address as a naked photo of yourself.

Second, use information to enlighten – not to hurt.  That information – the wrong address – gave Spike Lee the role of being not only a news organization — but also a prosecutor.  Our personal communication technology certainly allows you to be a journalist.  However, nothing but the will of the people allows you to be a prosecutor of someone else’s fate.  I haven’t seen any stories about Spike Lee being elected Attorney General or District Attorney in Florida.

George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon, has not been charged yet.  No one knows all the facts.  Yes, the public should be vigilant to make sure the police investigation is just.  But taking the law into your own hands is not the role of a private citizen or a citizen journalist.

I’m a big fan of Spike Lee and I am glad he has apologized.  But Spike has hurt his image as someone who stands up to the power to protect people’s rights.  He needs to do something big in the public – and soon.

Third, you, as a citizen journalist, need to be better than the news organizations.  Right now, the news coverage of this case is excessive.  Yes, it’s an emotional case, but the news media appears to be fanning the flames for ratings – which could actually hurt justice.  The major news organizations have an entertainment bias.  But we, as citizen journalists, should not.  We should be offering insight rather than inciting.

Spike Lee should meet Larry Carter.

Larry is a friend from Las Vegas.  Actually, he’s a personal training client of my wife Teri.  Larry is far from a Democrat or a liberal.

But Larry recently sent me – and others – an email.  It was an email that made me proud to call Larry a friend.  He was acting as a citizen journalist – correcting a WMD that seems to be a political broadside against the Obama Administration.  He wrote:

I keep seeing the email go around on the 3.8% tax on home sales.  This is an email that Annette (his wife who’s a realtor) got today from the company she works for.  While it may amount to a small charge for some wealthy homeowners, it will probably not affect 99% of home sellers.

That is true.

The WMD Larry received is an email I have received – and I am sure you have too.  It said something like this:

The Obama Administration has put a 3.8% tax on all real estate transactions to help fund Medicare.  That means if you sold a house for $400,000 you would be hit with an additional tax of $15,200.

It’s pure crap.

The truth is this.  There is a 3.8% tax.  But it’s on the capital gain of the house sold.  Plus, there are other factors like the couple’s combined income and the first half-million dollars of the capital gain is exempted.  And as Larry pointed out, it would affect very few people and the tax would be around $2,000 based on a home sold for nearly $1million.

Granted, Larry has a bias here.  His wife Annette is a realtor.  This false email would create big concerns for potential clients of hers.  By correcting the WMD, Larry helped not only his wife but people who might be buying a house and hopefully jump-starting this economy.

I immediately emailed Larry and congratulated him.  He emailed me back:

Most of the stuff I read on the Internet is not true.  Just got tired of people sending this one.  When I got one that denied it and it was from a creditable source, I decided to let everyone know.  I figured they would not believe it if it came from me personally.

That source that Larry quoted was Snopes.

A word of caution about Snopes.  They’re very credible.  But I have noticed a lot of Weapons of Mass Distortion will quote Snopes: “If you don’t believe me, check out Snopes.”  The writer hopes you will take his word that Snopes has verified the lie.  I never take it for granted.  I check Snopes.

Also be careful when you send out blast emails – to correct a WMD.  Your Internet provider might label you as a spammer.  If you’re worried about that, then do this.  Send an email back – only to the person — who sent the WMD and kindly and with confirmation explain his or her error in sending it out.

Then, send it to me.  We will post it here.

In fact, we might even create a Larry Carter Award – and nominate you.


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